HELEN & EARL – 01 January 2005

Before Christmas, Lauren read about Creighton in the December issue of Getaway, which I’d brought up from Cape Town. The cover feature was on South Africa’s favourite ‘dorps.� “Creighton is just up the drag,� she said. “and there’s a place there that does birding tours. Perhaps you could pop up there for a visit.� We doubted we would get in at such short notice but we were in luck. Button Birding Tours is Malcolm’s side of the business while his wife very efficiently runs Smithfield Guesthouse. From the time we arrived until we reluctantly left we felt more like friends staying over than paying guests! They are such special people and it will take a lot to prevent us visiting them again on future trips to Lauren and Allan. On Thursday we arrived in time for brunch in the garden with Jenny and Peter who had arrived the day before. The garden offered a good variety of birds and then we went in search of the specials of the region. Malcolm is a fun sort of fellow and his speech is peppered with mock disgust at not finding the particular bird he is seeking – “I’m taking buttonquail off the list!� or – nonchalant complacency when he does – “That’s Joan, my pet wattled plover – I must return with anchovies to pay her for her compliance!�

We were taken to various habitats and were delighted to get a list of over 60 birds on the first day and another 20+ the next morning. On Friday we were up at 4:30 to search for the elusive black rumped buttonquail. We did a military style sweep of the area after hearing its call and were double lucky to flush it twice. Earl missed seeing the first flush, which necessitated a second go. Luckily he flushed it himself and got a good view of it on the ground as well as in the air. Another highlight was seeing flocks of Cape Parrot in the church garden in Creighton.

On our excursions we also spotted some mammals including Reedbuck and Duiker. When we were in the forest Malcolm parked the vehicle and we walked some way before he returned to fetch it while we walked on. What a pity we didn’t go back with him because he had a 10-minute encounter with a caracal! Had we not seen one on the road to Durban earlier that week I would really have been upset but still I could have kicked myself for not sticking with the expert!

Earl asked about fishing in the area without expecting too much as there had been a lot of rain which had made the rivers and dams very muddy. However, Malcolm showed him a beautiful farm dam and obtained permission from the farmer for Earl to fish. We therefore decided to spend the afternoon fishing and then stay another night.

Peter and Jenny left for home after Brunch and Earl and I spent the afternoon at the dam. Earl fished and got a few bass the biggest being a 4-pound bass, which he caught on his second cast. There were quite a few birds to be seen including Barn Swallow, White-throated swallow brown throated martin and three banded plover.

On our way home we saw flocks of bishops, bronze mannikins and common waxbill feeding on the seeding grass on the side of the road.

Malcolm and Gail had their friends Moira and Miles Eaglestone over for New Years Eve dinner. They are dairy farmers in the district and know the Mackenzies. We all had a very pleasant evening. Moira did the starter and desert and Gail once again produced a wonderful main meal – her steaks were done to perfection! We decided not to see the New Year in and were in bed by 11 o’clock!

On New Year’s Day Malcolm woke us up at 5:30 a.m. He discussed a birding list with us and told us to choose which bird we’d like for our lifers to start the New Year! We were more than satisfied with the impressive list of birds including 12 lifers that we’d got on the last two days of the year but he insisted that we get some more today! Our target was to get the Orange-breasted Waxbill and the Half-collared Kingfisher. The weather was still overcast but warmer than yesterday and we set off confident that we were going to have another good morning of bird spotting.

And we were indeed well rewarded. Within half an hour we had the orange-breasted waxbill and although Malcolm thought we would have to go to a distant dam to find the half-collared we spotted him at one much closer to home. It was a tremendous thrill to see this bird, Malcolm got his scope set up, and so we got spectacular views of him.

Other highlights of the morning were seeing otters frolicking in the dam, a pair of Jacobin cuckoos, a male diederik’s bringing his mate a worm, crowned crane doing a mating dance, hamerkops mating and a gymnogene being scared off by hamerkops and other water birds. Our bird list for the morning was 59.

Our total list for the New Year’s Weekend was 108. The lifers we got were:

854 Orange-breasted Waxbill
857 Bronze Mannikin
826 Yellow-crowned Bishop
384 African Emerald Cuckoo
416 Horus Swift
339 White-winged Tern
206 Black-rumped Buttonquail
478 Brown-backed Honeybird
430 Half-collared Kingfisher
668 Pale-crowned Cisticola
637 Dark-capped Yellow Warbler
642 Broad-tailed Warbler
92 Southern Bald Ibis
533 Brown-throated Martin
521 Blue Swallow

We highly recommend this establishment to anyone who is thinking of visiting Southern KZN.

Love
Helen and Earl